In the mid 1960s Phillips 66 petroleum initiated an ad campaign around the slogan “Go with Phillips 66… the gasoline that won the west”. The ads featured images of cowboys along with some snappy copy that talked about Phillips’ “down home hospitality and service”, as well as their gasoline’s performance, which they claimed “gave you more gallop per gallon”. Motoring at this time was still a major recreational activity for most Americans and Phillips effectively used cowboy imagery to symbolize the “freedom of driving on the open road”. Much like the American cowboy who had rode west and tamed the wilderness, Phillips aligned itself with the cowboy mystique, aiding adventurous 1960s travelers as they made their way westward.
As we all know a number of muffler men were put to use in conjunction with this campaign. I’m not sure if International Fiberglass created a special version of the muffler man for Phillips or not, but we do know that a standard Phillips 66 cowboy had a hat and rolled up shirt sleeves… sporting Phillips 66 logos on their breast pockets as well as on the front of the cowboy hat. In some shots one can see cowboys wearing a holster and six shooter, there has been some speculation that some also carried rifles, but I have yet to see an example of this. Through my research I’ve come across a number of vintage images of various Phillips 66 cowboys, all of which are long gone. Luckily for us a few of these muffler men ended up on promotional postcards created by the proprietors of these stations. One of the nicer ones I’ve seen was used to promote Vaughn’s Phillips 66 Station located on Highway 20 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. I have no idea whatever happened to this muffler man, but it’s a great example of roadside vernacular especially with that huge mutant head located on the roof. Another Iowa cowboy can be seen on this postcard from the Landmark Truck Stop and Restaurant, located in Williamsburg. This restaurant is still in operation today but unfortunately the cowboy is long gone. Locals referred to him simply as “Phil” – he must have had some impact because as you can see he even made his way onto their matchbooks! There is also a well documented Phillips 66 cowboy which was located in a station next to the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas in the mid 60s. Gabriel Aldaz devoted a whole chapter in his book “Right Palm Up, Left Palm Down” on his attempt to find this particular cowboy , unfortunately he was unsuccessful in obtaining any relevant information about his current whereabouts.
Another great source for vintage Phillips 66 cowboy imagery can be seen in newspaper articles from the period. I’m guessing if the town was small enough having a 20′ tall fiberglass statue erected on main street was something worth reporting. One can see this in this blurry newspaper article from Conroe, TX. I also uncovered this press photo from St Petersburg, Florida. This is a particularly good shot in that one can see this cowboy’s holster and gun clearly as well as the rolling base. The little kid holding his arms up is also pretty funny. He’s identified on the back of the photo as “Little Donnie Brown” age 3… his father ran the Phillips 66 station located coincidentally on 66 Street North. (I noticed that this photo refers to these cowboys as part of a “touring promotional attraction” so perhaps some of these moved around from site to site? ) Article by Roger Bywater
Editors Note: It seems most cowboy versions left today were at one time Phillips 66 Cowboys. Many have lost their hats and are mistaken for the service man version when in fact they were once Phillips 66 cowboys. The cowboy hat was made from a simple mold they made at International Fiberglass and because it’s so thin and fiberglass becomes brittle over time they often crack and fall apart and are long outlived by the cowboy. Very few left today still have their six shooters on their belt. These were often the first items to “walk off” and I only know of 3 that still have their six shooters. As Roger mentioned, it has been reported that they also carried rifles although I have yet to see a vintage picture of this. A few hold rifles today and when talking to Marvin Hawk who used to own a cowboy m man in Roseville, IL he stated that when he got his muffler man from a western store in Monmouth he was wearing a cowboy hat and holding a rifle. Some cowboys still are standing on the platform patented by Steve Dashew like the cowboy at the top of this article in Wendell, ID. This would support the idea that these cowboys did move around from gas station to gas station as part of a ongoing promotion by Phillips 66. I have heard it said that the area reps were less then excited about these muffler men as moving them about from site to site was not a “fun activity”. Today very few if any still wear their original stickers but if you look closely at the cowboy in Wendell you can still make out the outline of a Phillips 66 sticker and a time gone by.
Special thanks to Roger Bywater for his contribution to this blog. All pictures used with permission from a private collection.